Enemy Love Revisited

freehugs.jpgOn November 2nd, two days before the election, I preached a message on political embodiment called, “Salt, Light, and Voting,” which I was more pleased with than any sermon I’ve preached this year. In it, I asked the congregation to consider what it would look like for a Christian not so much to be political, but to be peculiar, and the impact that such a life would have on the world.

The word “peculiar” has marked much of my public discourse lately, and so I’ve started to take some ribbing for it anytime I use it.  What can I say?  It’s a great word to describe the sort of living to which Christ calls us in a world that is anti-Christ.

As I read Luke 6:27-36 this morning (the “love your enemies” passage), I thought seriously about writing another post on my growing proclivity for nonviolence, but thought better of it since, in the past, the discussions that follow such posts in the comments section of this blog haven’t been particularly loving nor helpful.  So instead, I offer some more general (but perhaps more helpful) thoughts from my journal entry this morning:

“Luke 6:27-36 (and par.) has hit me with such fresh power again and again this year.  What strikes me freshly this morning is Jesus’ emphasis on pecularity (sorry—there it is again).  When we approach this passage, we tend to want to try to define under which circumstances Jesus’ commands to love one’s enemies, to bless those who curse you, to pray for those who abuse you, to invite a second helping from those who hurt you, and to offer more to those who steal from you do not apply.

In other words, we all agree that Jesus said this and that nonviolence of some kind was a defining characteristic of his interpersonal ethics.  But then we go and add a series of qualifiers based on which sorts of situations we think Jesus might and might not have had in mind (buglarization of one’s home, threats to one’s personal security, protection of the innocent, just war, etc.) when he said this.  The extent of our qualifiers is where our disagreements come.  But this is not how Jesus himself explains his command to love one’s enemies:

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good, what benefit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same?‘ (vv. 32-33).  Furthermore, ‘Be merciful even as your Father is merciful‘ (v. 36).

In other words, Jesus’ application of his enemy-love command does not focus on situations.  It focuses on peculiarity.  How does our conduct in response to aggression and violence look different from those who do not embrace Christ’s example and pattern of living?  How is our response peculiar?  How does our response exemplify the Father’s mercy?

Let’s remind ourselves of the nature of the Father’s mercy: Rebels, condemned to Hell, repeatedly and without warrant offend their Creator, who, rather than returning violence for violence or aggression for aggression, dies for these rebels and takes them as his bride.  But the rebels continue to rebel, committing adultery against their groom.  But he holds them still, choosing not to retaliate, but instead seeks to redeem and transform them into beautiful companions.

Does the ‘mercy’ I show when I am attacked, abused, or otherwise threatened look anything like this?

Let us all honestly ask ourselves the questions that Jesus poses and see where those questions might lead us as we think about the answers to situational questions.

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29 thoughts on “Enemy Love Revisited”

  1. Good post, Bryan. I work with 2 guys (one claims to be a Christian) who have an overbearing attitude of revenge. They are driven to get even with anyone they feel has wronged them, no matter how petty–be it road rage or dissatisfaction with the speed of service at McDonalds. Like all sin, the need to get even is driven by selfishness. If we remove self from our interactions with people, the tendency to strike back drops off dramatically.

  2. See, I think we should focus on situations like Randy mentioned above (road rage, fast food service) and leave the rare or abstract exceptions (like violently defending an innocent person or Just War) out of the conversation as they tend to obfuscate the larger point. That was probably our mistake last time this discussion came up. Most people won’t ever run into a situation where a burglar breaks in to their home, but pretty much everyone knows what it’s like to routinely be cut off in traffic or a check-out line and, to heap insult onto our moral outrage, the offender then gives an obscene gesture in their direction. Or many Christians know (or will know in the coming decades) what it is like to have their child’s public school persecute and deny their “rights” as parents or Christians. In that last example, the world’s response is a lawsuit. What is the Christ-like response?

  3. If we take Darius’s comment seriously and work on our own everyday response to rather ordinary situations, the extreme situations will 1) become less common and 2) we will be more likely to respond to the rare extreme situations in a Christ-like manner because we have been practicing such responses.

  4. Boy, you were just waiting all morning for a chance to say that, weren’t you? I know you were practicing that in front of the mirror in hopes that you would see me, forgetting that I’m in IL.

    That’s the best spot you could find, huh?

  5. Nice you are back to “blogging”– How long before you are back to talking about chips?

    Anyways from reading the past few blogs before you took some time off you give a guy or gal plenty to think about—Some of your entries really make me think and challenges me to mediate and pray about some things— So if nothing else thanks for the added fuel of things to think about and take to the Lord–

    As for a comment to the above all I can say is:

    God’s mercy is so way above mine it is hard to grasp at times– As a follower of Christ though it is something that through Christ I can do my all to obtain and pass on to others—

    Again welcome back–

  6. PB-

    Your pre-election sermon was indeed Peculiar. Don’t get me wrong: I loved it! But it certainly wasn’t standard “vote for the prolife candidate” sermon we are so used to before elections.

    I guess what I really want to know, is how much are you being hoodwinked by Shane Claiborne. OK, Maybe hoodwinked is too strong. But, do you seriously think you would be using the “P” word so often had you not read Claiborne’s book? Someone else chime in here! No one used that word until Claiborne started dropping his “P” Bombs!!!!

    So, I’m almost finished with Jesus For President, but I still feel like I’m stuck in the same position I feel like I was before I started the God and Government series with you at Keystone. That is, deep down inside I WANT to be able to accept the “Enemy Love” “Mother Theresa” approach to life, which Claiborne so freshly explores. But I’m stuck because it’s NOTHING LIKE what the contemporary Evangelical church seems to endorse at a political level.

    So, what gives? Anyone?

    -Brandon

  7. Brandon,

    Your comments just make me not want to be your friend anymore, bud.

    Okay, just kidding. This really is a good observation and deserves a good response. Give me until Thursday, though, when I’m done with this paper, if you wouldn’t mind. My brain is stuck on 1 Tim. 3:16 right now.

  8. no rush. seriously, i mean no offense, i think you are great! now, get back to work on your paper and stop blogging!!

    -B

    ps if you think these questions are hard, wait until you get my list for the Becoming One Q&A session!!! ; )

  9. “But I’m stuck because [Claiborne’s ideas are] NOTHING LIKE what the contemporary Evangelical church seems to endorse at a political level.”

    Perhaps both have it wrong (to some extent). A thinker like Colson understands not to put faith in politics, but many Christians and churches don’t seem to understand that to fight for truth and right doesn’t mean that one must put all their hope in political means or that politics is likely to change even one heart.

    Perhaps Christians should be much less inclined toward personal retaliation or defense of one’s supposed “rights” yet still affirm and support a government’s God-given role as peacekeeper and punisher of evil.

    But I believe Claiborne is wrong on one point in his book. He gives the example of when he and a young kid were beat up by a gang. He states regarding that situation that it is wrong to fight back OR run away from the violence intended (so basically, one is not allowed to physically do anything). I can see the argument for the first in Scripture (though it is debatable whether it was morally right for him to stand there and let the poor kid get beat up), but he doesn’t bother to explain where he sees the latter portion defended in the Bible. Paul routinely “ran away” from violent intentions (Acts 9:25, Acts 14). Claiborne makes Jesus look like a moral simpleton, which, IMHO, defames Christ.

  10. Also, Bryan, don’t think you’re going to get off the hook from responding to the question on babies and eternity from a few months ago. 🙂 All in its due time, of course, hope that paper goes well!

  11. Also, Bryan, don’t think you’re going to get off the hook from responding to the question on babies and eternity from a few months ago. 🙂 All in its due time, of course, hope that paper goes well!

  12. DANGIT, Darius. I actually had hoped I was off the hook on that one.

    Lord willing, this paper will be done by tomorrow – even if it requires my first all-nighter since ’06 – and then I’ll blow up this blog with comments.

    Wait… it’s my blog, so… nevermind.

  13. I know what I say might seem “alternative”, which if you knew me, you would know how common it is, but I take the perspective that we are not in the Kingdom today (waiting for the Kingdom to come). Keeping this idea in mind changes the context of what Jesus was saying in Luke.

    His words are a part of the Sermon on the Mount, which is Jesus’ teaching about how people should conduct themselves in the Kingdom and about what reality will be like in the Kingdom. If you take the Kingdom to be now, then these words do apply directly to you, such that if someone sues you, you must ALWAYS settle out of court. But if you are one of the extremely few who think the Kingdom is yet future, and not here now, then these words don’t apply directly to you.

    That is not to say that these teachings are of no value. Indeed they are priceless. They teach us of the ethical standards that God desires for us to live in. This teaches us much about who God is, and what the future Kingdom will be like. We are told after all to focus our thoughts on the Kingdom, to try and understand what that reality will be like. So it is good for us to try to live these ideals, but with the understanding that we are not in a Kingdom where bad people would be prevented from taking gross advantage of our kindness.

    As I said, my views run askew of most. I guess that makes me “peculiar” wah wah 🙂

    BTW – the sermon that came out of this was a breath of fresh air.

  14. “So it is good for us to try to live these ideals, but with the understanding that we are not in a Kingdom where bad people would be prevented from taking gross advantage of our kindness.”

    laxisusous (or Lyle), do you believe that there will be “bad people” in THE Kingdom? I mean, obviously we’re all bad. But when the Kingdom comes fully, those who are believers will be redeemed and those who are not will be damned. I assume you agree. If so, then where do the “bad people” come from in your statement above? Or did you mean that people will not be allowed or able to take advantage or sin against other people in the Kingdom? If that is the case, then to whom is Jesus referring in Luke 6 when He says to love our enemies. Why would we have enemies after He comes again and sets up His Kingdom? Won’t our enemies be banished to the lake of fire?

  15. Brandon,

    “I guess what I really want to know, is how much are you being hoodwinked by Shane Claiborne.”

    How to respond to this one… You certainly bias the question by using the word “hoodwinked,” right? I mean, I hope that I’ve made my hesitation about Claiborne clear enough by now that no one is under the impression that I agree with him on everything. I doubt he and I would even agree on much.

    I just really think that he gets it really right on a general nonviolent stance and on political embodiment. In light of Jesus’ teaching, the burden of proof should always be on those who seek to justify violence, not on those who seek to justify nonviolence.

    As far as picking up on “peculiar.” Well, what can I say? We all pick up things that impact us from what we read and hear, don’t we? Evangelicals sure started using the words “joy” and “sovereignty” a lot more once Piper came on the scene. Or, “beauty” and “story” when Rob Bell and Doug Pagitt came on the scene. Or, “Cross-centered” when Carson and Mahaney came on the scene…. That doesn’t make them bad words. Just useful words. Moreoever, Claiborne didn’t make up the word “peculiar.” He just employed it well, as I am trying to employ it well – whenever it helps illuminate the meaning of the biblical text, as in, say, Matt. 5:13-16.

    With regard to this comment you make: “I’m stuck because it’s NOTHING LIKE what the contemporary Evangelical church seems to endorse at a political level.” As far as I am concerned, that is a very good thing because I firmly believe that the Evangelical church has over-relied on and lusted after political power far too long, and at the expense of far more important and biblical priorities. In my opinion, the contemporary evangelical church, to put it bluntly, desperately needs to get out of bed with political operatives – both for the sake of its own purity, and for the progress of the Kingdom of God on earth,

    Okay, I think I better start a new comment for Darius and Lyle…

  16. Lyle,

    Thanks for the comment, bud. Of course, you and I have discussed the nature and “time” of the Kingdom at some length in person, and I have tried to persuade you (to little avail) that the “already/not yet” antithetical nature of the Kingdom is a cornerstone of the theology of the New Testament and can be demonstrated on the basis of dozens of texts.

    But now you’ve got me really confused. I was under the impression that you thought that the Kingdom had arrived in Christ because after the gospels (so you claim) no one talks about Kingdom coming anymore (which I, of course, dispute). But your comment above makes it sound more like you believe that the Kingdom is not here at all now, and that we have in no sense entered into it yet, and we are waiting to do so.

    Could you clarify this for me? I think I have a good rebuttal either way, precisely because I believe (as, I argue, the NT authors do) that the Kingdom is both present already and not yet here. So, if you believe that the Kingdom is only future, I’ll take some time to line up some texts that show the “now-ness” of the Kingdom. Or vice versa.

  17. Bryan,

    I like the way that you put it: “I just really think that [Claiborne] gets it really right on a general nonviolent stance and on political embodiment.”

    Basically, I think I am looking for an escape route, so that I can embrace the polarized *ideas* of a revoluationary like Shane Claiborne or even Greg Boyd, but at the same time temper my *response* with the realities of our fallen and entrenched civilization.

    We all have lives to live, right. I can’t go living in a burlap hut and having my kids getting beat up just because I’m so insistent on living a peculiar life………………….

    …… can I?

    Anyway, I agree, use *Peculiar* all you want. It’s a beautiful word and we might as well milk it.

    And, no, I never *actually* thought you had been hoodwinked. More likely, I thought that *I* was getting hoodwinked and I tried to superimpose that upon you so I would have a Godly example of how I could react. Thank you, it worked!!

    -Brandon

  18. Regarding Darius’ question:
    I do believe that people in the Kingdom will be capable of sin, but that sin will be immediately met with God’s judgment. A prophecy concerning the Kingdom and the possibility for sinners in that Kingdom is seen in Zech 14:16-19. This section of scripture takes place shortly after the second coming of Christ (v 3-6), yet we see that God places penalties for those who still might choose to oppose His law. I know of no verse which shows that those in the Kingdom are unable to sin.

    It is my belief that during the time of Acts the Kingdom was in place in power, although it was small it was growing quickly. During this time we see two citizens of the Kingdom (Anania and Sapphira) who though they were living in the time when God’s Kingdom was stretching out with power foreign to us, they sinned and were immediately judged for this. They did not get the grace that we get.

    Then there are those sinners who are outside the Kingdom yet are alive as seen in Rev 22:14-15. This involves the New Heaven and New Earth” and is a bit outside of my grasp of study. But at the least one sees that “bad” people are not rooted out even at this point.

    Regarding the lake of fire, Jesus will destroy all of those who revolt against him as He returns. This does not mean that the only ones left are 100% pure. It means that those left are those who didn’t actively engage in the open rebellion against God. This doesn’t ultimately fix our heart issue.

    You say that those who are not believers when the Kingdom comes will be damned. They will be killed, yes. But as you know a believer can still sin, and even fall away. I hope this helps explain.

  19. Regarding BCM’s question:
    Actually I don’t remember going into any detail about the Kingdom. We spoke for a handful of minutes but really didn’t scratch the surface of the topic. We never discussed the texts you mentioned in your sermon message. I would like to go over those with you someday.

    On to your question. Sorry to say I’m gonna take a strange road on this one. To put it succinctly, the Kingdom of God started at Acts 2, and then become suspended at Act 28. Shocker I know. So it is future, as most agree. It was past, as most agree. But it is not now, as few agree. I’m not going to back this up with verses (I could) but then my comment would stretch longer than your original post. Suffice to say, my very uncommon viewpoint does explain that whole lack of miracles as seen in Mark 16:17-18.

    I imagine that your head is spinning with verses, and steam is pouring out your ears. Either that or you are more confused than anything. Either way, it gives us plenty to talk about. See you on Sunday.

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